WORLD ROUTES: Sowing The Seeds at Shannon

Shannon’s head of aviation development, Declan Power, has been attending World Routes for the past 20 years and says the event is a “must” for every airport.

“I’ll always remember the first event,” says Declan Power, Shannon Airport’s head of aviation development. “It’s human nature to say the first is always special, isn’t it? But it really was. It was smaller and less formal than today, it was a great opportunity to get to know people and build close relationships. Although, I must say, the beer wasn’t cheap in Cannes!”

The bell may ring every 20 minutes at today’s World Routes but Power believes the event has lost none of its appeal. World Routes still acts as the perfect sounding board for route development ideas. “You get to meet airline personnel there that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet,” says Power. “In effect, it makes the cold call that much easier. Because you get your time in front of an airline you have an ideal platform for pitching your case. And airline staff are often surprised by what you have to offer. It puts the seed of an idea in their mind and who knows what can develop from there.”

Shannon has been surprising the airlines since that first event in 1995 in Cannes. In that year, Power met up with Continental Airlines and three years later the Shannon-Newark, New York service took to the skies.  The airline, now flying under the United banner, still
serves Shannon 16 years later. The unique selling point of Shannon at that time was route analysis.

While many of the other airports were sticking to the basic facts, such as length of runway, terminal facilities and catchment area numbers, Power was pioneering a more in-depth approach to marketing that enabled airlines to see beyond the brick wall of simple slot availability. “Twenty years later, all airports are far better at marketing themselves,” says Power. “That’s the biggest change I’ve noticed and World Routes has brought about that change.”

With that change has come greater competition. Airports now compete on a global basis. Airlines with new aircraft on order have the ability to deploy that aircraft on any number of routes. In the case of long-range widebodies that means pretty much any gateway could attract their business.

“You have to look at market demands, at airline strategy, at their fleet,” says Power. “There is so much more data available now and you have to use it all to build your case and tailor it to a specific client and route. Airlines have their own plans of course but it’s a volatile industry and plans can change. You need to be ready to step up.”

While other gateways have adopted route analysis as a basic tool of marketing, Power says Shannon is determined to try to keep one step ahead of the crowd. Innovative thinking is part of the DNA at the Irish gateway, believes Power. The airport used to be a regular stop on Transatlantic routes in the days when refueling at Europe’s most westerly international airport was a necessity. Ever since aircraft extended their range, however, Shannon has had to continually reinvent itself.

It was the first airport outside of the United States to offer US pre-clearance of customs, for example.  That provides a really strong pull for airlines looking to enhance their connectivity to the United States. Not only does it add the potential of Shannon traffic but also it allows passengers to avoid the long queues at major US hubs.  And it brings into play a huge number of smaller US destinations that airlines may have shied away from due to the destination airport’s inability to cope with a plane load of international visitors landing on their doorstep.

Greater connectivity with the United States is not Shannon’s only goal though. The airport is actively looking for more direct European connections.  For many European cities, Shannon’s passengers will commonly transit at London Heathrow.  But Power believes Shannon has a compelling case for direct services to offer to some of the European major airlines. And it’s a case he is looking forward to presenting at Chicago and future World Routes.

“The event has grown massively but it is still about opening doors,” he concludes. “It’s a ‘must’ for every airport because it gives you the platform for success.  Anyway, in most cities the beer is a lot cheaper than it was in the bars in Cannes.”